By Ryan Haupt, GSA Science Policy Fellow

The National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program (NGGDPP) was created by the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The program has been without authorization since 2010 but newly-introduced legislation may change that. The purpose of the program is to ensure the preservation of geologic, geophysical and engineering data, maps, well logs and samples and that a national catalog of all archived material be provided. This agenda is supported by the Geological Society of America in its Geoscience Data Preservation Position Statement.

Unrecoverable core
Image credit: USGS

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) works in partnership with state geological surveys by issuing grants to fund projects at state surveys and hosting workshops to share management practices and foster collaboration. The geosciences are quickly becoming a highly digitized and data rich field, but the preservation of historical data and making it available for future researchers remains critical. Advances in machine learning may even provide completely new ways of reading and interpreting the data currently stored in older analog formats, and may then be able to find ways to integrate historic data into modern datasets in ways that would have been unimaginable to the original collectors decades or centuries ago.

To ensure that this rich legacy remains intact, on 12 September Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY-7) introduced H.R. 4299, which would reauthorize the National Geological and Geophysical Data Preservation Program Act from 2020 through 2024. The bill’s bipartisan cosponsors include Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO-5), Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY-20) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA-47). The bill was then referred to the Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources within the House Committee on Natural Resources.

Field notes for preservation
Image credit: USGS

On 19 September, the subcommittee held a hearing to receive testimony on this and several other bills. The witnesses stressed that data preservation and digitization, in addition to providing a service to the geoscience research community, can help detect previously unknown geohazards and save lives. Rich Ortt, president of the Association of American State Geoscientists (AASG), gave an example from Florida, where digitized groundwater maps were used to identify sources of contamination, which improved the safety of local drinking water. Ortt testified that the bill had the support of his organization, and that this bill helps lessen the need and cost of going out into the field for fresh samples. John Palatiello, a partner at Miller/Wenhold Capitol Strategies, LLC, pointed out that other organizations use USGS data to solve problems that weren’t even being considered when digitized in the first place.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced the Senate version of the bill as part of, S. 1317 – The American Mineral Security Act, with 11 bipartisan cosponsors. The goal of the bill is to reduce U.S. dependence on foreign minerals, especially those 35 minerals considered critical to U.S. national security and economy. As part of that plan, the bill would reauthorize the NGGDPP for 10 years at $5 million each year, with the hope that increasingly available digital data might help identify forgotten mineral resources or even new potential sources. The bill has been passed by the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which Sen. Murkowski chairs.

Even with bipartisan support, there are still a few hurdles to clear before the bill becomes law. The House version still needs to pass out of committee and on to a vote of the full House. The Senate version, which has authorization numbers that the House version lacks, also needs to pass a vote of the full Senate. If the bill passes in both chambers, the differences between the two versions will have to be reconciled before it can go to the President’s desk for his final signature and approval.